Performance is of interests to the researchers in

failure is an important part of the field of sport psychology. In this executive
summary the 1908 Yerkes and Dodson (inverted U theory) in ‘choking’ will be closely
looked at and to see why it is of interests to the researchers in sport and
exercise psychology. Choking can happen any time and in any sport. It has been difficult
for researchers to come up with a real definition for it. Different definitions
of choking have been proposed in the sport psychology literature over the last
30 years by sport anxiety researchers. Beaumiester (1984) has defined choking as
“performance decrements under pressure situations”. It is performing more
poorly than expected giving one’s skill level in a certain situation. Choking
is an interest to sport psychology as it can change a match completely. Choking
under pressure has a huge impact on a match situation. It can also have
psychological damaging effects on the athlete. There can be many different
reasons that cause athletes to decrease performance, it can be caused by an
injury or slump. It has been researched
by a number of researchers around the world. Different theories were
made to understand how and why a choke may happen in a sports game.

purpose of this executive summary is to review the literature relating to
choking in sport and highlight the significance of it to the field of sport and
exercise psychology. By critically reviewing the research, the mechanisms and
potential moderators of choking under pressure in sport will be examined. The direction
for future research that address such concerns will be recommended. This will
be achieved by looking into research that has been conducted on choking in
sport in research papers and journals and compare the different articles and to
see why it is of interest to the field of sport and exercise psychology. A full
understanding of the phenomenon is necessary to prevent its occurrence and
enable athletes to achieve under pressure situations.

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Main Body:


of Choking

has been a lot of research on performance failures and how choking in sport
happens and why it can happen. Researchers have come up with many theories of
choking in sport. Theories that have
been proposed to explain why athletes choke under pressure. There are the ‘drive’
theories and ‘attentional’ theories’. Drive theories consist of the ‘cusp
catastrophe model’ and the ‘inverted U model’. Attentional theories include ‘distraction
theories’ which consists of the ‘Processing Efficiency Theory’ – and the ‘Self-
Focused Theories’ which consists of the ‘Explicit Monitoring Hypothesis’ and ‘Consciousness
Processing Hypothesis’.


Yerkes & Dodson

inverted U is a ‘drive’ theory used for research on choking in sport. Research
started in 1908 with the Yerkes-Dodson effect, often termed the inverted- U
model (Tenenbaum, G. & Eklund, R. 2007). It says that intermediate levels
of drive (anxiety) will cause optimal performance and a high or low level of drive
will cause performance deterioration. However, it does not explain why some
athletes who do have high drive and still perform well. It also fails to
explain the process of choking. There is also a lack of predictive utility. Another variant of the inverted-U model is
Hardy’s (1996) cusp catastrophe model (CCM). The catastrophe and inverted-U
models are similar in that both predict that increases in arousal will
facilitate performance to a certain degree. The cusp catastrophe theory can be
defined as “A catastrophic drop in performance will occur when levels of
cognitive anxiety and physiological arousal are both high” (Hardy, 1996).

and Williams (2007) did some research using the catastrophe theory and found
out that high levels of cognitive anxiety and of physiological arousal did lead
to choking of some athletes, but not in others.


of choking in sport:

John Terry’s penalty miss in the Champions League final
in 2008.

and Manchester united featured in the UEFA Champions League final in 2008. The game
finished in a 1-1 draw leading to a penalty shootout. The Chelsea captain John
Terry had a chance to seal the victory for Chelsea. He went to take the penalty
aimed right and slipped and hit the post. Manchester united went on to win the
penalty shootout and win the Champions league due to Terry’s choke.

taking a penalty kick in football choking can be missing the target completely
or hitting the target but not to any of the sides or not with much power on the
kick. Some people thing just hitting the target is not a choke but anyone can
hit the target if they really tried, it’s the accuracy of hitting it away from
the keeper so the keeper cannot save it from going into the goal.


of choking in sport:

anxiety and Self-confidence – High trait anxiety and low self-confidence
athletes are liable to choke (Baumeister et al., 1985) through both distraction
and self-focus mechanisms.

level and Task property – Novices are more likely to choke due to distraction,
while expert athletes as result of self-focus. A complex task with declarative
properties will be more vulnerable to distraction, while a more procedural one
is vulnerable to self-focus.

of an audience – Recognised influence but need research to clarify if effect is
positive or negative. Increased anxiety vs “home advantage”.


don’t like having all the pressure on them or the weight of the team on them
because it caused a lot of stress on them which leads to having anxiety levels
increase to high which then links to ‘choking’.

In sports usually occurs during a competition, in between a big match or during
a vital moment in a game regardless of how well trained the athlete was prior
to the event.





Choking is caused when an athlete’s performance
drops in a game or tournament which they are strongly favoured to win, or in an
instance where they are leading by large amount and then they start losing in
the late stages on the event. Choking under pressure can be a very serious
problem for skilled athletes. A single instance of choking can mark the end of
a previously successful career.

Choking is an important phenomenon that
attracts attention from sport researchers and coaches and players and even fans
of the sport.

Choking under pressure is an individual
phenomenon so future research examining performance across high and low
pressured situations is needed with the same athlete.

It is not clear from past research how
frequently choking under pressure actually occurs in high- level athletes and
what situations tend to increase the probability of such occurrences. There is
still much more work to be done by researchers that will benefit coaches and




Allen, M. and
McCarthy, P. (2014). Sport
psychology. Harlow U.A.: Pearson Education Limited.

Tenenbaum, G. and
Eklund, R. (2007). Handbook of sport psychology. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley. 3rd


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